Strategy discussed to combat gangsterism in prisons

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pretoria - A draft strategy to address gangsterism in prisons, presented during special session of Round Table on Combating Gangsterism in Correctional Centres in Pretoria on Tuesday, has been welcomed by the Correctional Services National Commissioner Xoliswa Sibeko.

Commissioner Sibeko described the Draft on Anti-Gangsterism Strategy as a crucial milestone towards closing the institutional, systemic and psychological gaps that have helped to sustain the influence of gangs in Correctional Centres.

Integrated and dynamic strategies were now needed to decrease gangerism and other forms of organised crime in South Africa's prisons, she said.

The strategy outlines various proposals to deal with the challenge of gangsterism, including installing at CCTV in living areas, passages, dining halls and kitchens and increasing the presence of staff in some areas.

Recommendations were also made during that meeting that staff members be trained to be responsive to the needs of inmates and not just their security needs. Staff should also be trained to deal with incidents of gang activity and violence in prisons.

Regarding the effective control of gangsters and crime syndicates while being transported to hospitals and court, special wards for offenders and dedicated escort units with specially trained guards were proposed.

The electronic identification and movement tracking of gangsters and their visitors was identified as an effective way of improving the monitoring of gang members.

Ms Sibeko said that interventions were also needed to ensure the safe custody of both inmates and officials.

The Judicial Inspectorate of Prisons, Non-Governmental Organisations, Faith-Based Organisations, advocacy organisations and academic institutions attended the round table meeting to share their views and solutions to gangsterism.

The discussions formed part of Commissioner Sibeko's efforts to build partnerships between civil organisations and government to combat these challenges facing the department.

"The integrated and dynamic anti-gang strategy has been outstanding for a long time and we cannot wait any longer."

She warned that although good progress had been made over the last five years in reducing incidents of violence associated with gangsterism, the actual gangs influence remained high and therefore needed a coherent approach to deal with it.

Commissioner Sibeko called for the strengthening of partnerships and sanctions against gang leaders and of programmes aimed at keeping inmates busy and eliminate idle minds.

The department has invited all stakeholders to indicate how they can contribute to the development of a gang management strategy.

In their presentation at the round table meeting, NICRO said gangs posed a serious safety and security threats to prisoners and staff alike.

A recent report by the Correctional Services Portfolio Committee indicated that there has been a major reduction in attempted escapes, escapes and gang-related incidents in South African prisons over the last five years.

Gang-related incidents in prisons are down from 196 in 1996 to 12 in 2008, while attempted escapes are down from 23 in 2004 to 13 in 2008 and escapes from 176 in 2004 to 70 in 2008.

The department said the decline of deaths, incidents of violence, gang related incidents and major reductions in escapes are a result of policy and strategy development as well as appropriate deployments and motivation of staff to ensure effective implementation.

The meeting also heard that about 2 600 inmates belong to gangs constituting only 1.7 percent of about 160 000 inmates in Correctional facilities.

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